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How Infection Spreads And Ways To Control It

Aug 5, 2008
The monitoring of infection control procedures is a vital responsibility in all healthcare institutions. This importance can be attributed to the increased spreading of super-bugs such as C-diff and MRSA and the attempts of workers to limit the instances of these viruses. Monitoring of procedures ensures that infection control is always at the forefront of the mind whenever performing medical procedures and care. But how can viruses be spread? What are the fundamental modes of transmission that are so important to preventing the spread of viruses?

Transmission of infection can occur through a number of methods. These are inhalation, (breathing in), ingestion (eating), inoculation (from a sharp object or bites), contact and finally transplacental (from mother to baby inside the womb). For those monitoring control procedures it is vitally important to realise that a number of microorganisms use one or more of these methods to infect patients. Understandably, attempting to limit the chances of transmission is an important element in any control strategy.

Contact transmission creates the greatest problem for healthcare institutions. Furthermore, the definition of contact can be divided into three distinct subcategories; these are direct, indirect and droplet. Here is an overview of each.

Direct contact is a person to person contact that allows the spreading of microorganisms. This is important in healthcare because procedures such as bathing, the changing of dressings and the use of devices internally; all carry an inherent risk of spreading infection. Hand washing remains as the best way to combat direct contact transmission and should be a vital a part of any infection control monitoring policy.

Indirect transmission can occur when a patient comes into contact with a surface or piece of equipment that is carrying a virus; this why it is extremely important for equipment and apparatus to be thoroughly cleaned after each and every use by all healthcare professionals. This includes complete disinfection and sterile storage so there is no chance of transmission by this form.

Droplet transmission can occur as a result of sneezing or coughing and refers to the droplets in the air. The area of danger can be considered around three feet away from the patient. This is why in the healthcare sphere the use of masks is a vital infection control measure to prevent staff becoming infected and spreading viruses to other patients. In addition to droplets there a microorganisms that travel in the air and infect people through inhalation.

The problem in healthcare institutions is that there are large numbers of 'susceptible hosts' in any one area. These susceptible persons have a deficient immune system that is particularly vulnerable to infection and transmission of any variety. For healthcare professionals, training can help to ensure that they recognise who is a susceptible host and hence who needs additional protection from transmission.

Ways to control transmission is a matter of conjecture in medical circles. There are so many agents out there to undertake cleaning that knowing which to use is confusing. Ultimately however the type of cleaning products used is not the determining factor of successful transmission control. The procedures are what is important; by having strict procedures put in place infection can be controlled and contained. In the healthcare profession the objective of infection control procedures is to reduce instances of cross contamination. By understanding how microorganisms are spread it is possible to make procedures far more effective.
About the Author
Health expert Thomas Pretty looks into why infection control monitoring is one of the key responsibilities of healthcare professionals.
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